What Year Is It?

racists.jpg Let me paint you a little picture of my neighborhood: Located in the lovely Miracle Mile area, just blocks from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, mine is a diverse community made vibrant by Angelenos of all colors and creeds. Two houses up there’s an interracial couple whose young children are, to put it mildly, absolutely gorgeous. At the top of the block is a first generation Chinese family that keeps part of their front lawn reserved for a vegetable garden, and who are always full of smiles. My pal Kelly, a dedicated Christian Scientist, lives on the next block over, and when I take my dog to the park, it’s always full of Orthodox Jewish mothers and their innumerable children–friendly little tykes who often ask to pet my dog. Also included in the motley crew that I interact with on a daily basis is a gregarious gay guy, a chatty Latina lady, a couple of incredibly intense Russian women, a very pleasant, older Middle Eastern man, and a rockabilly dude. My neighborhood embodies the wonderful diversity of Los Angeles, which is why I was so taken aback today, when I had the following encounter.

I was walking my dog on the next street over when a voice called out to me.

“Hi!” It said, and looking over, I saw that it belonged to an upper middle-aged black man.

“Hello,” I called back, with a smile. “How are ya?”

“I’m the neighbor,” he shouted, in an oddly taunting tone. Something in his voice sounded snide, though I had no context for understanding why.

Somewhat confused, I waved and said, “Nice to see you,” and as I continued on, I heard him jeer, “Uh ohhh, black people, colored people, black people, colored people in your neighborhood!”

Part of me wanted to turn around and explain to him that it’s 2008, not 1968, and that this neighborhood is not only diverse, but friendly. I wanted to let him know that if he gives us all a chance, he’ll see that he’s not judged and ostracized due to the color of his skin, but instead he’ll be welcomed as yet another unique member of this rich and friendly community.

Instead, taken aback and caught off guard, I walked on, trying to process what had just happened.

Perhaps next time I see him, I’ll sing him a song:

It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?…

It’s a neighborly day in this beauty wood,
A neighborly day for a beauty.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?…

I’ve always wanted to have a neighbor just like you.
I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.

So, let’s make the most of this beautiful day.
Since we’re together we might as well say:
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won’t you be my neighbor?
Won’t you please,
Won’t you please?
Please won’t you be my neighbor?

20 thoughts on “What Year Is It?”

  1. ah, well, isn’t that just a nice way to start the day? perhaps he is like Mel Gibson in Forever Young and he just thawed out of a time capsule and still thinks its 1950something. thats my best guess. ha

  2. What does the guy expect? I don’t care what his race is – my sense is that nowadays it’s pretty uncommon for strangers to offer more to one another than a silent nod of acknowledgment of each other’s existence upon passing by. Maybe a muffled “hi.” But “nice to see you” – wow…I think you already went above and beyond.

    He’ll figure it out. Maybe he really was from the 50s and had his hopes up that you’d deliver a deli platter or a cake or something, to welcome him to the neighborhood. Maybe bring him some sugar. Or offer to have your son mow his lawn for a dollar.

  3. If you continue to be nice and greet him, he’ll find out that his initial impression is incorrect. Don’t let him pass his prejudices onto you. Your point of reference is not the same as his point of reference.

  4. Les: Agreed, and that’s my plan. Hopefully he’ll get to the point where he can enjoy all this neighborhood has to offer, without being on the defensive all the time.

  5. Then again you may have just run into a natural crab ass and there is nothing you can do to change. I have a couple on my street, crabby and always looking for a fight. Clay is a perfect example I parted with a bit of my tire off the drive on my yard and he called the cops on for for “marking in the yard” which is a no-no. I shrug it off and offer an apology to the cop because he had to respond to the crabby man again.

    It happens.

  6. Just ask him “I heard you make a comment and I was wondering what it was about.” I suspect that’ll bring out any of his preconceptions. Either that or just ignore it and he’ll figure it out himself.

  7. Yeah, that sucks. Some people want to keep their hatred and racism and hurt feelings wrapped around them like a warm soft flour tortilla of intolerance. If you see that fucker again, I’d be just as nice to him, and say exactly what you said before. That’ll show his stupid tortilla of hatred.

  8. Whoa…that’s an assumption and a half. It amuses me that everyone here is going along with the assumption. I used to live in that “oh-so-diverse” neighborhood and while you maybe be more than willing to flaunt your “I’m cool with black people” creds, 80% of the white people over there aren’t. They’re more than willing to talk about all the “diverse” people in their area, but don’t actually interact with people that aren’t white.

    And you have to understand, that in areas like that, yes a black man is going to make sure you know he’s legit, because white people, have a habit of calling cops on us just because we’re there. I lived in my Melrose area apt. for 8 years and had the cops called in me at least 20 times a year. Why? Black person walking down the street on a Tuesday. That’s the sort of stuff that happens to me in Porter Ranch or Rancho Santa Margarita or wherever, but not in “oh-so-diverse” Miracle Mile, right?

  9. Fabooj! I knew you’d respond eventually. I’ve enjoyed keeping up with your blog. I have to say, though, that while I appreciate your input, the people that I’ve encountered here over the past year+ have all been pretty sincerely inviting.

    As for color lines…The man in question isn’t the exception to the rule here. There are a number of black people who live, work, and hang out in my neighborhood. They certainly don’t seem to raise any eyebrows or inspire any calls to the cops. And let’s be realistic, here: If this man had introduced himself to me in a legitimately friendly manner, rather than taunting me, ignoring my “hello, how are you,” and anticipating my metaphorical “call to the cops” as you put it, chances are he and I would have had a nice conversation and become friends.

    My assumptions…your assumptions…You know what they say about what happens when you assume.

    ASS = u + me.

  10. Like I said, I lived in the area for 8 years. I’m well aware that there are people of color who live there. What I’m saying is that a black man in an area like that has to be careful, regardless of how “inviting” you may view the area. I’m not discounting your POV of the encounter, I’m just saying there’s another layer there that you won’t get.

    And the other thing is that black people, especially if they’re from the south or certain parts of the midwest are naturally friendly. When my dad comes out here to visit, people look at him strange because he’s always asking, “How are you?” to complete strangers. We LA denizens (especially in that area) have an unnatural distrust of friendly people. My friend’s cousin from Mississippi didn’t understand it. He’s a young guy, but thought LA people had problems because he’d smile, say, “Hi. How’s it going?” and people would either pretend he hadn’t said anything, or react oddly.

  11. You know, the more I think about this, the more I realize it’s a generational thing more than a race thing. I’m going to put together a photo essay on my neighborhood, and ask the subjects a few key questions. Perhaps it’ll give us all better insight into how different people perceive and experience this area. I’ll aim to post it in the next week or two.

  12. I’ve lived in the MM almost my entire life and that dude just sounds crazy. I mean guy-with-the-empty-bottles-on-Ogden crazy. I agree with the other poster that says he’s probably not from the ‘hood. I mean, MM’s been pretty diverse for the 20-something years I’ve been alive, so. . .it’s not like he just moved to Valencia or something.

  13. Helen, what a great idea. Now for the added layer of interest, bring borrow a kid and a stroller and walk around. Then go into a department store and see how things change. It isn’t always about race, but how you are perceived by your outward appearance and the baggage with you.

    You are correct some is generational. Some is whatever region you’re coming to the city from as fabooj points out.

    And yes, I get a major charge out of reading her blog, I may not agree on the content or opinions on all points, but the delivery is what keeps me going back. She is way to funny. We need her here for a lot of reasons.

  14. frazgo, are you saying you don’t dig my 80s rap videos? OMan! I was just going to change the focus of my blog…that is from me, to me and music. ;P

    Interesting you mention the baby thing. Ay! I can do a whole post on that and restaurants. I actually think I did do one back in ’05.

  15. Maybe he’s related to Conspiracy Brother and is over-analyzing the situation because he’s new there. Tell him you’re a blogger, and that might break the ice.

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